Is the "standard" Linn Sondek LP-12 surpassed by newer turntable brands and designs??

More than ever, the infamous Linn Sondek LP12 turntables appear for sale on Audiogon. The price of each piece varying based on the age, condition, and how many authorized factory upgrades have been done .

The question is: Is the "standard" ( without any upgrades) Linn LP-12  outperformed by newer brand turntable designs??  It seems to be getting long in the tooth as a viable high end turntable

Can someone explain what made the sound quality of this table so special and so sought after??  Is  a USED standard Linn LP-12. really worth the money??   Thanks 

Yes its ancient history move on.

While I do own an LP12 that is far from basic, I would choose a VPI Prime over a current entry level LP 12. However, at its best, an LP12 is still a very musical table. 

Dear Jim,

I cannot comment on the current base level LP12 but I can describe "used" versions of it (and if you are interested, comparisons between the ultimate maxxed-out Linn LP12 vs other top-level turntables)

Like many I formerly owned a 1980s Valhalla-ed LP12.

Idiosyncracies aside, IMO, it is a very musical turntable . The sound is distinctly different from more “neutral” sounding T/Ts such as the Clearaudio & VPI ranges and those of similar design. Bottom line is that if you had been an LP12 user for decades you would find the sound of those tables unrewarding and unsatisfactory (and, dare I say, almost boring ;^).

The Linn has an ability to vividly render the music. Low level detail is similarly vivid and accentuated in a way that doesn’t happen with those other tables. For those of a more puritanical mindset, the Linn is not technically or dynamically correct but it isn’t something many would find objectionable, even if they were aware, and it’s unique sound can make most recordings exceptionally entertaining.

To cite the example of Arthur Salvatore. According to his own reports, he had one for a short time, got rid of it, then later purchased another because (I’m guessing) he wasn’t quite sure what he was missing but was probably convinced at the time he was missing something! :D

Since then he seems have fully-formed an opinion but quantifying the LP12 sound can be an elusive process.

(I should also state the disclaimer that I don’t necessarily subscribe to any particular person’s views on the LP12 but accept that they have their own opinion)

The Linn seems to perform particularly well with its own ancillaries (Ekos/Ittok and Linn carts) and can also be enhanced by using those in conjunction with Naim pre-amps of that era e.g. NAC32.5. Bearing in mind that the Naim’s integral phono PCB was handling a signal little greater than 100 micro-volts the results were staggeringly good compared with expensive and highly rated SS stages from other manufacturers, which could appear artificial and “reproduced” (or “unnatural”) by comparison.

BTW, the pedigree of the NAC32 line can be traced back to the days of the legendary Linn/Naim/Isobarik tri-amped systems of the 70s. Hearing that setup for the first time could be categorised as a memorable Hi-Fi milestone in the same way as one’s first exposure to the Quad ESL-57. It was a game changer that had profound effects on the industry for many years to come. In fact Linn’s market presence was so powerful that alternative designs such as Oracle & Michell had great difficulty breaking through because nearly every hi-fi publication was pre-disposed to recommend the LP12 above all else!

If one was seeking musical holograms or 3D living musical sculptures then this was one way to get them.

Of course these results hinged on the Linn being pampered and treated to its own dedicated and tailored mechanical support (allied to mounting that support with perfect stability on a solid concrete floor). In this regard it is even more critical than many other current suspended sub-chassis designs. Poor attention on the part of the user to this particular detail can make the LP12 sound quite ordinary. It is a design where such fastidiousness is rewarded.

(Note : Contrary to claims the suspension doesn’t drift “out of tune” if it has been properly set up and you elect not to have it adjusted/re-tuned every few years.)

So what you have here is something that, in its way, can be more “addictive” than almost anything else out there but there must be a willingness to pander to the forementioned details. You should also note that, long ago, Linn discontinued support for the Valhalla PSU. If a replacement is needed then the Hercules II is the recommended alternative (and usefully also gives it switchable 45 RPM capability).

With the latter you will have to crank the startup by hand i.e manually spin the platter to help it up to speed but to a much lesser degree this was always the case with the Valhalla. Once there it’s fine.

Hope this "sojourn through the archives" proves helpful ;^)

Great reply moonglum. I keep my 80's LP12 Valhalla Ittok on standby in case I get fed up with my 401. Or if it breaks. So far, I have used it once. I did enjoy the Linn for many years but against the 401, it is outclassed.

To Moonglum, Thank you for the history lesson on the LP-12. I gather that regardless of its overall performance, it was an analog tinkermen's  holy grail. Its greater perfection could be achieved by the factory upgrades.  Overall,  it seems like that set-up, and ancillaries were necessary to bring out its peak performance, and any faux pas along the way reduced its additive euphonic sound quality, and the buyer's investment. Not exactly a turntable for the impatient.  Unlike vintage wine, the LP-12 was not going to improve over time, it seems to require continual special nurturing

OK, enough with the mixed metaphors; I am sure over the decades  the LP12 sound quality was unassailable.   As I noted before, more than just occasionally, LP-12 are popping up on Audiogon.. 

Actually, as a prelude to creating this thread is  a good condition LP12 is on sale with the Valhalla upgrades and sporting a Grace  707 tonearm   A tempting combo,, though based on some of the points you make, too much of a gamble for me.  Thanks

  ..To noromance,  who makes the 401 TT you mention in your reply??      

Garrard made the 301 and 401 starting from the mid 50's up to the mid 70's I believe. they are killer tables if cared for and upgraded with a good plinth. I left an oracle Delphi mk3 behind for a late 50's grease bearing 301 and its wonderful. the 401 had a better motor but other issues so a lot of people combine the 301 with the 401 motor for the ultimate Garrard.  They are what's called a rim drive transcription table use primarily in radio stations but also seen in homes. if you can get one a good table cost around $2k then you need an arm, cart and good plinth. well worth the money. check out

that's Loricraft audio they make some wonderful mods and have parts, pinths and rebuild  etc.  there is many others that work with these tables SMD is another that comes to mind.

Garrard 301 1954 to 1965, 401 1965- late 70's

Sunnyjim click my name to see some pics 

Dear Jim,

It is a popular and understandable misconception that the Linn is a "tweaker's dream". The fact is that once you have settled on a basis (such as the Valhalla, perhaps with the glued rather than spot-welded sub-chassis) then no further alterations are required.

"Setup" means exactly what it says : once the turntable is properly established in your listening room no further action is necessary.

In this regard the LP12 could actually be less troublesome than most others. For example, main bearing lubrication does not require service. It is a once in a lifetime exercise (only in the unlikely event that the previous owner spilled the contents of the Bearing Well in transit!). Many other turntables require you to re-lube every year - which I find a PITA by comparison.

The Linn's mechanical parts are unburstable and will last for as long as you want to keep the turntable.

Although I appreciate the enthusiasm for old Garrards, rim drive never held any appeal for me, perhaps from my tape-enthusiast standpoint ;^)

If you wish to fully experience the depth of feeling for the LP12 you should take a trip over to PFM and you'll get vastly more information there.

To Moonglum Thank you for the  additional information  However, I still think the LP-12 is a tweaker's  table. I worked in the audio business from 1976 through 1991. My last tenure in a middle to high end store, that offered such fare as Yamaha,  Nakamichi,  McIntosh, Dalhquist, KEF, etc.  Even though, the shop did not sell Linn products, occasionally. a high-end tire kicker would find his way into the store, and drone on about how great his audio system, and that he owned a Linn LP-12. Without missing a beat, he exalted in how he had slaved over the set-up of the table, and the importance of ancillaries  to get the best from the table. His monologue was also aimed to denigrate the equipment sold by our shop.  I must have encountered at least 10 such non-customers with almost the same rap.  

Therefore based on some of the point you made in your first e-mail and my own experience with LP -12"cultist,  I believe that a used LP-12 potentially offers more risk than an other brand's new table.  However, I respect your comments, and  knowledge of the LP-12 history.   Good Luck    (BTW,  who or what is PFM)

To noromance,   That is a great looking system you have put together.

Another thread wherein the 80's model LP12 is compared to either a current VPI, or ?? ( supply name here) or a 301 or 401 Garrard!
Have any of these gents actually heard a CURRENT model LP12??
God forbid that be the case, but nonetheless the comparisons keep on flowing, lol.
A new Magik level LP12 is still, IMHO, at least as competitive as any other table in its class...and more than most. As one goes up the line to the Akurate model and then to the CURRENT Klimax model, the CURRENT model LP12 Klimax begins to leave all of the others in the dust!!

Now, back to the many opinions of the 80's model LP12....that we listened to years ago, but are still experts on, LOL.

I am not an essentialist but would like to use this metaphor for

the Linn parts. The best part from the start was the platter. Among

the many improvements I think that the new bearing (the old one

was leaking) with the subshassis and new springs are all that you

need in order to get the best value for your money.

Interesting Nandric. It's not an occurrence I've ever heard of but consulting the web shows it has happened. It's important to note that the oil in these cases isn't emanating from the bottom of the well but coming from the top. My guess is that the bearing's either been overfilled or tilted in transit causing a spillage at the top of the bearing collar. Putting less in should cure it.

Unfortunately, in this regard, a popular technique was to deliberately overfill then let the bearing's descent push excess oil out onto the top plate, then remove the bearing briefly to wipe off the excess.

Messy. ;^)

How many "newer" designs allow the owner to start at an affordable "standard" level and upgrade over time to a top flight deck, supported by the original manufacturer as well as many well established third party vendors? 
Go hear a new "standard" level LP12 and compare it to decks in same price range. The LP12 has a signature sound to it- it has drive, rhythm and is fun to listen to. If you like this sound , go for it.
It's a proper record player that will last a lifetime- make up your own mind.

Dear Jim,

You have my sympathies. Picking up on the subject of tyre kickers. There is no doubt that there was an element of snobbery or superiority complex amongst those who were part of the Linn "revolution" at its peak. It started from the Chairman then flowed down through manufacturing & support then through the Dealers, eventually affecting the media and finally many of the customers. It was like a cult, not dissimilar to the current analogue industry in fact.... ;^)

(An industry which I confess to occasionally over-fervently defending throughout the years when faced with the onslaught of digital ;^)

Despite being a Linn owner at that time, I found the arrogance of  some Linn Dealers irritating in the extreme.

BTW "PFM" is shorthand for "Pinkfishmedia" forum.

You need to get out more. ;^) :D

DaveyF, in fairness, we have been comparing 80s LP12s with 60s Garrards!

I have an '88 vintage Linn w/ Cirkus, Lingo, Ekos and had it "Tuned" by Tom at Ovature Audio in Ann Arbor, MI. New Kleos cartridge. Sounds as "New "; Toe Tapping musical. My (3rd Lyra) and it sounds better than the Clavis and Hellicon before. Still like that it has a dust cover. Just bought a Kuzma Stabi S, Kuzma Ref 12 VTA , platter upgrade and 33/45 power supply. Great TT! Plays well above its price! Some might disagree but I think the 12" arm lets the Dynavector XX2 Mk II unravel complex passages, lots of detail, huge soundstage,deep bass, precise imaging. The Linn and Kuzma play in the same "league" But the Linm has that something 
"Toe Tapping" about it.  Does either the Linn or Kuzma blow the other away? NO!  They are different and have different qualities ( different cartridges, arms, suspended vs unsuspended) Both are satisfying! I suppose that it will take a "Super Table, Arm, Cartridge."  Combo to blow them away ! / ?. I do wonder if the Keel & Radikal can elevate the Linn? Or should I save that money towards one of the TTs that I am considering? : Kuzma Stabi M w/ 4pt or 14" arm, Kronos w/ Helena arm or Tech Das III w/ Graham arm? All thoughts, opinions are welcome. There is a lot of great gear out there and you can't get to hear it alone. Thanks in advance.
The Radikal fundamentally changes the LP12 to a more modern sounding TT, i.e. more accurate. The Cirkus bearing  and Kore subchasis upgrades also follows along this same path. All are fantastic upgrades and imo should be considered prior to tonearm or cartridge upgrades.
If you like what an LP12 does then these upgrades make perfect sense.
The "super" TT's you mention are different altogether and I suspect will have a very different sound signature. 


noromance, see varyat's reply above. What is the point of comparing a 80's LP12 to a 60's Garrard?? I understand that some people like the sound of an idler drive....that's their preference; however, the sound of the current idler drive TT's is fundamentally the same as it has ever been, IMHO..while the sound of the LP12 has drastically changed over the years. 

SunnyJim said:

"The question is: Is the "standard" ( without any upgrades) Linn LP-12  outperformed by newer brand turntable designs?? It seems to be getting long in the tooth as a viable high end turntable".

Davey has made an important point. If the OP considers an LP12 "long in the tooth", how much more so a 1960s Garrard ;^)

To extend the spectrum of views on the 401 consider the opinion of experienced user "Paskinn" (scroll down to the bottom of the page) :

Now you have a balanced profile Jim, the Good, the Bad & the Ugly ;^)

When it comes to turntables they all sound different which means that they are all (technically) inaccurate.... :(